Breast Cancer Survivor
- Came to SCCA in 2004 for a second opinion after an initial misdiagnosis
- Treated for inflammatory breast cancer with chemotherapy and lumpectomy at SCCA
- Treated with radiation therapy at a clinic closer to home
- Received follow-up care at SCCA Women’s Wellness Clinic
Being misdiagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) only to learn she actually had inflammatory breast cancer was an emotional blow to Vickie Grams back in 2004.
“I lost confidence in my doctor,” Vickie said. “They didn’t know what kind of breast cancer I had, but it had grown three centimeters in two weeks. After the tumor was removed, my doctor informed me that I had inflammatory breast cancer. I wanted clarification.”
Getting a Second Opinion at SCCA
Vickie contacted Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) to get a second opinion and had an appointment with Julie R. Gralow, MD, director of breast medical oncology at SCCA.
“I was in shock at the time,” Vickie said, “but I was very impressed with SCCA. Dr. Gralow was very straightforward, personable, and had a clear command of her specialty. I had a conference with all of my doctors.” Breast Cancer Specialty Center conferences include a breast surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, and pathologist.
The team confirmed that Vickie had inflammatory breast cancer, stage 3B, not DCIS, and explained the recommended treatment. “They presented the situation as it was,” said Vickie. “I felt better. I had confidence all the way through my treatment at SCCA.”
Treatment for Inflammatory Breast Cancer
In cases like Vickie’s, Dr. Gralow prefers to treat the cancer with chemotherapy before any surgical procedure, called neoadjuvant chemotherapy, in order to shrink the tumor as much as possible to improve the success of surgically removing it. But Vickie had a lumpectomy prior to coming to SCCA. So Dr. Gralow started her on a six-month, dose-dense chemotherapy regimen. It was difficult due to the side effects, but Vickie was determined to do what needed to be done “to have another chance at life,” she said.
After chemotherapy, Vickie opted for another lumpectomy, called a re-excision, instead of a mastectomy. David R. Byrd, MD, was her surgeon. She then received radiation therapy at a clinic closer to home instead of at SCCA.
When her treatment was complete, Vickie became a patient at SCCA’s Women’s Wellness Clinic, where she received follow-up care for many years and now receives her annual physicals.
“I love the Women’s Wellness Clinic for so many reasons,” Vickie said. “Among them, my exams are thorough and comprehensive with same-day results, and Heidi Trott, the nurse practitioner I see there, is intelligent, personable, and action oriented. All of the aspects of the superior health care I was accustomed to with Dr. Gralow have been carried over with Heidi. Additionally, all of the employees I have come into contact with at SCCA are efficient and thoughtful. This made the transition from active cancer treatment to aftercare much easier. I believe SCCA to be the gold standard in health care. As such, I consider the Women’s Wellness Clinic to be a sound investment in myself.”
What’s Next After Cancer
Nearly 10 years after her diagnosis, Vickie took stock of her life and her health. “I got in touch with myself from the inside out,” she said, motivated by the death of a friend and fellow cancer patient in March 2013. That loss resulted in Vickie’s decision to devote her energies to her health and wellness. Her first change in protocol was to expand her exercise program, including by joining Team Survivor Northwest (TSNW), which supports women cancer survivors with fitness and health-education programs. She works out weekly with a TSNW coach as part of the Active Women Healthy Women class, dances three times a week with Zumba, lifts weights twice a week, power walks, and practices tai chi. Vickie’s food plan is calorie and portion controlled and mainly organic.
“Since I’ve intensified my workouts, I have lost 42 pounds and regained 5.1 percent of the bone density in my spine and hips,” she said.
In 2013 she stopped taking exemestane (Aromasin), a drug that lowers estrogen levels, potentially slowing the growth of certain types of breast cancer, because the side effects were no longer acceptable to her. “I wanted to alleviate, or at least slow down, the damage to my heart and bone,” she said.
“Increasing my commitment to my health has opened doors to many new experiences. I work hard every day. I am inspired by Dr. Gralow, who says that cancer is about living, not dying. SCCA has been an intimate and integral part of my life. I can’t thank SCCA enough for saving my life,” said Vickie, who is considered cured. “When I wake up, I want my face to be the face of gratitude. I’m grateful to be here.”